For fans of world cinema, 2010 was the year of the Millennium trilogy, the three film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s novels about Lisbeth Salander. It’s not to say you had to like all of the films or you’re not a fan of world cinema, just the same as how 2003 was the year of The Matrix for spawning two less well received sequels.
The rapid-fire release of the films in the UK held my attention for most of the year. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo kicked it all off in April and the story concluded with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest in November.
The Girl Who Played With Fire came in the middle, and with the benefit of now having seen all three films, it’s most aptly described after a second viewing as a connector between Dragon Tattoo and Hornet’s Nest.
We pick up with damaged genius Lisbeth Salander and altruistic journalist Mikael Blomkvist a little while after we left them in the first film, and drop them off at a point for the third film to pick up. What happens in between involves Lisbeth being framed for a triple murder, and subsequently, she’s made the target of a national manhunt.
Her old pal Blomkvist believes in her innocence, because of the case’s link with the sex trafficking racket he’s about to expose in his magazine, but he’s the only one protesting on her part. The key to exonerating Lisbeth lies in her tortured past, and as he desperately tries to re-establish communication with the driven and independent young woman, dark secrets shed new light on the present.
If you’ve noticed the perilous teal and orange colour grading that has crayoned Hollywood’s output in a fug of teal and orange, prepare yourself for the complete discordance of cinematic styles between this instalment and the snowy vistas of the first film.
Director Daniel Alfredson’s visual style jarred in the cinema, but it should be mentioned foremost on the Blu-ray because of how it’s compounded by a less than crisp transfer. There’s too much grain for a recommendation of the HD version over the standard definition DVD, which should probably look fine when upscaled.
Amusingly, I discovered a neat special feature on this one. There’s an English dub of the film that’s done by American-accented voice artists, and that’s how I had my second viewing. For people who don’t want to bother reading subtitles, David Fincher is going to be remaking the trilogy in the English language, starting this December. So, you should probably wait for Daniel Craig’s spin on Blomkvist, rather than listen to the line-reading drudgery of this dubbing.
It’s often the case with the best dubs that they’ll get a sterling cast to perform vocal duties, as in a favourite of mine, Porco Rosso, which features the voices of Michael Keaton and Cary Elwes, amongst others. The voice artists here have no such pedigree, which is galling to hear in a trilogy of films that are so driven by the strength of their performances, vocal or otherwise.
Noomi Rapace is rightly being lauded left, right and centre for her turn as Lisbeth in these films, so why would you listen to an American drawl just because the superior delivery isn’t in English? When Rapace is off-screen, none of the Millennium films are ever as interesting as they are when she’s on-screen.
And thus, one of the major criticisms of this second instalment must be that they keep the two protagonists apart for too long. I like that Blomkvist, the audience viewpoint figure, is left in the dark, separated from his one-time partner in investigation for much of the film. It gives the audience the upper hand to some extent, except for how Blomkvist’s detective abilities now seem only to span as far as threatening to publish people’s names unless they give him information.
The second viewing was also informed by the selection of extras available on the Blu-ray, which include some cast and crew interviews that gradually devolve into irrelevance. They’re edited and shot by John Lindqvist, apparently, and I don’t know if it’s the same John Lindqvist who wrote Let The Right One In, but either way, they’re a tad rubbish.
However, some of them do go some way to informing the film itself. Filmed guerrilla style on the set of the film, we find Micke Spreitz, who’s much more talkative than Ronald Niedermann, his character in the film. In his interview, and in the accompanying action scene dissection, Niedermann vs. Roberto, we see that he’s not really an actor.
This alone informs the leaden performance necessary for a character who’s essentially a Bond henchman along the lines of Jaws or Oddjob. Niedermann is a 7-foot tall Aryan bloke who has the physical quirk of being immune to pain. The effect of his sudden appearance in this sequel after the straight-faced and issues-driven original is similar to the effect a talking animal would have if it showed up in the middle of Schindler’s List.
That said, the other stand-out interview on the disc features Georgi Staykov, the actor who plays the sub-Bond villain who compounds the goofier stance of the sequel, Alexander Zalachenko. The interview finds him in the make-up chair, as he concludes his day of acting by having the burns-wound prosthetic removed.
We get to know Staykov as the make-up is removed, and the effect of seeing a much younger actor at the end of it all makes it a beautifully judged and edited sequence in a special feature that thereafter turns into an interview where the first assistant director explains what a first assistant director does, and so on with other crewmembers, dispensing with any insight into the actual film.
For all of this slightly negative criticism of The Girl Who Played With Fire and its Blu-ray release, this is only to break down exactly why the film falls somewhere beneath the pedestal held by the first instalment. It’s still a decent watch with all of its flaws, and it’s arguably the most cinematic outing for Lisbeth.
In the lead role, Rapace expands her outstanding performance and embellishes her rendition of the character with consummate cool and heartfelt expression. The following instalment, which is also previewed in the extra features, is much weaker for featuring less of Lisbeth.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is simultaneously a follow-up and a stage-setter, and holds together much better than its sequel.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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